Patriots Escape Arizona With 2 Point Win To Open Season
With an offensive unit devoid of its Hall-of-Fame quarterback, its All-Pro tight end and its starting left tackle, the New England Patriots weren't really given much of a shot by anybody to win their season opener on the road against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday night. In true Patriot fashion, however, Bill Belichick's team is leaving the west coast with a victory, after outlasting the Cardinals 23-21.
Here are some quick thoughts following the win:
Getting Some Luck- There's always some bit of luck that factors into a game, especially one as tight as this battle. The Pats got their biggest break on Arizona's final play of the night, as Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro sent a 47-yard kick just wide of the left upright. Replay showed that the snap on the play was a bit off and the holder had trouble getting the ball set in place. A more precise transition from snap to hold to kick could have ultimately resulted in a different outcome, but instead New England got the biggest break of the night.
Jimmy G Looks Good- All things considered, Jimmy Garoppolo played well, starting for the first time in his career in place of suspended starter Tom Brady. Garoppolo finished the night 24 of 33 through the air for 264 yards and one score, behind a makeshift offensive line. Garoppolo looked poised most of the night and with the exception of a second quarter strip sack played pretty flawlessly. He also used his shiftiness and his scrambling abilities to stretch a couple of busted plays, throughout the night. Aside from Garoppolo's play himself, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels put a solid game plan together and utilized the quick passing game to give the young quarterback as much of an advantage as possible.
Edelman & Co. Give Jimmy G Support- Part of Garoppolo's success Sunday is thanks in large part to the play of his wide receivers. The first time starter spread the ball around nicely all night long, hitting six different receivers for two or more passes each. As per usual, slot receiver Julian Edelman rose to the occasion, helping out Garoppolo by catching a team-high seven passes for 66 yards. Danny Amendola also had three catches for 48 yards on the night, including a huge 32-yard catch on third down, to prolong the Patriots' final scoring drive of the night. New receivers Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell also impressed in their first Patriots game, as the combined for 5 receptions for 93 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown reception for Hogan in the first quarter. The performances of both Garoppolo and the receiving on Sunday bode well for the next few weeks of the season.
Marty (Kinda) Fills Gronk's Void- Make no mistake, Martellus Bennett is no Rob Gronkowski. While the Patriots missed some of Gronk's big play abilities and his ability to command a double team, one place Bennett filled the void pretty well was in the blocking game. With a patchwork offensive line in place, the Pats needed extra blockers to step up in both the running and short passing game. Bennett had a number of quality blocks on the night, which helped free up space for guys like Julian Edelman, LaGarrette Blount, Chris Hogan and James White among others. With the exception of one holding penalty that seemed kind of unnecessary, Bennett was big in that aspect of the game. While Bennett didn't have a huge day catching the ball, grabbing three passes for 14 yards, he did show up as a blocker.
Won the Game, Lost the (Turnover) Battle- New England was able to sneak out of town with the two-point win, something they accomplished without winning the turnover battle. Turnover differential is a facet of the game the Patriots have controlled over the years, though Sunday night was a different story. New England fumbled the ball twice, once in the second and once in the third, while Arizona managed to keep the ball in their possession all night. The two Patriots' turnovers were costly, resulting in 14 points on two short-field scoring drives. That differential will have to swing back in New England's favor, for the team to continue to be successful throughout the season.
Pats D Says "NO" To Deep Ball- The Cardinals love to go deep down the football field for big plays on offense. They are stacked with talented receivers and pass catching backs and have often burned opponents with a high flying aerial attack. The Patriots defense. led by coordinator Matt Patricia, likes to take away what their opponent does best and that's exactly what they did with Arizona's deep passing game. Patricia had his defense sit in zone most of the night and allowed the Cardinals to throw short routes and run the ball. So while Larry Fitzgerald has a big night underneath, catching eight passes for 81 yards and two scores mainly working out of the slot, Arizona's deep threat receivers Michael Floyd, John Brown and J.J. Nelson were held five catches for 80 yards combined. That was part of the difference in the victory.
Kicking Edge- One facet of the game, which all too often slips by unnoticed until a final attempt late, is the kicking game. New England has one of the great kickers of all time on their team in Stephen Gostkowksi, who was a hug contributor to the victory Sunday. Gostkowski connected on three field goals, including one from 47 yards out, another from 53 yards out and an eventual game winner from 32 yards away. He also placed the ball well on almost every kickoff attempt he had tonight, which helped to pin the Cardinals offense back deep in their own zone for most of the night. With all that said, his counterpart for the evening, Catanzaro, missed a potential game winner, himself. So, consider yourself luck to have a guy like Gostkowski on the Pats, Patriots fans.
Final Thought-All in all, the game was far from perfect, but New England showed a lot of moxie battling a talented Arizona team while being extremely shorthanded. Belichick and his staff, once again, put together a solid game plan, took away what their opponent does best and put their offense in positions to succeed throughout the night. It might be Week 1, but with they're backs against the wall, the Patriots rose up and snagged a win many didn't think they would be able to get. Certain things, like offensive line play and turnovers, will need to get better as the season goes on, and they will. For now, though, a W is quite nice.
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